My most recent conference trip was to AERA in Chicago, one of the most popular conferences for people in the educational research field. Over the past 10 years, the average number of attendees at AERA Annual Meetings has been 14,967. Consider this: a three-day event hosting 10,000+ people. One might think, “Wow, that’s a great opportunity to meet others,” but in reality, it’s often the opposite. Everyone seems to be in a hurry to get to the next session. Unless you already know some other attendees, there isn’t much opportunity to make meaningful connections.
I suspect this is a common feature of large conferences. Many parallel sessions occur simultaneously in different locations. If you want to attend sessions in different venues, you need meticulous planning and the ability to walk quickly. After attempting this on the first day, I was so exhausted that I decided to stay at the venue where my presentation was scheduled. Another observation is how the keynote sessions were organized. While the size of the conference room might not be under the organizers’ control, it could have been planned differently. When we reached the keynote talk, the room was already beyond full. Later, we found out that it was actually the overflow room, with only a screen streaming the presentation. The actual room where the speaker gave the talk was packed. There was no way even half of the conference attendees could fit into those venues. I left in the end, knowing that the recording would be available later.
Putting all of these factors aside, the cost of delivering a ten-minute presentation is simply too high for me to justify another conference trip. Consider airfare, accommodation, meals, and transportation to and from the conference venue. These expenses accumulate rapidly. While my institution does provide some support for such activities, I can no longer justify the expense. As a result, I’ve made the decision to stop traveling to conferences unless there is an exceptionally compelling reason to do so.
Dec 2019 turned out to be a good month: I managed to present a few talks at two conferences: Research on Teaching and Learning Conference and CMS winter meeting 2019. RTL focuses on SoTL research where educators share their teaching and learning scholarship experience. I enjoyed it a lot: the crowd is small enough for people to connect and have in-depth discussions. Even an introvert like myself is able to feel comfortable and I enjoyed all the talks that I attended. This is also the first time I learned about Q-Methodology which is a fascinating way to analyze qualitative data such as students’ course evaluations. I can see a lot of potential in using this method for our future work. I gave two talks at this conference and have enjoyed my interactions with the audience. The slides can be found here:
Design of a classroom-based intervention through technology-enhanced activities
Active Learning Design for Calculus II
It’s a perfect opportunity to get some valuable feedback for the education research projects we have been working on in the past year.
CMS winter meeting 2019, on the other hand, has attracted hundreds of mathematicians from Canada and worldwide and can feel overwhelming. There are so many sessions happening at the same time so one is bound to miss a few that he/she plans to attend. I’m glad I caught the Art of Mathematics talks especially the one given by Gerda deVries during which she talks about quilts and mathematics. I have to admit it gave me a lot of ideas of future painting projects I can work on. I gave a talk TECH for teaching during the special session Teaching Strategies for Increasing Diversity in Math moderated by Sarah Mayes-Tang from University of Toronto. What a lovely audience! I enjoyed the conversations and sharing of all the speakers very much but it’s a pity I couldn’t attend all the talks (and the lunch!) due to a final exam in the afternoon. I’ll make sure to come back next year.
Life does have surprises for us: the first time I attended the same meeting was in 2010 while I was a Ph.D. student in Singapore. I still remember the excitement and nervousness of presenting our work the very first time. That’s also my first time visiting Toronto. Who would have thought we will end up living here after this many years.